(Cover Photo by @chrisreybasalo)
We have been receiving a lot of questions about Emma’s training on our Instagram (@this_girl_emma), so we’d like to introduce 5 key commands that we use with Emma:
They are not the typical “basic” commands, but we have certain applications for each of them that make them essential to Emma’s safety and well-being. We’ll go over each of these commands in detail, what they’re used for and how we trained Emma!
Over the course of the last 14 months, we experimented with various different training techniques and have found that three key ingredients, if you will, enhance a dog’s learning: guidance, patience and consistency. We’ve had the privilege of being able to work with some of Emma’s friends as well, and just keeping these three ingredients in mind during all training sessions improved the rate of their learning quite drastically.
Just like we learn from the people around us as children, dogs also benefit from being taught right from wrong, while still being given the opportunity to be wrong and learning from those situations. Brandon McMillan puts it perfectly, in that he believes dog training is about leadership, not dominance. We approach our training similarly in that we want to work with the dog through trust, not through fear. We find that leading and guiding dogs to desired behaviors offer clearer communication than simply punishing undesired behaviors.
There will be fantastic days and there will be absolutely terrible days, but it will always pay off. Trust yourself, trust your dog and trust the process, even if you don’t see progress immediately. Emma’s potty training consisted of us waking up every few hours throughout the night, going down 40 floors to the grass patch outside our condo building, and waiting upwards of 30 minutes per trip in the Canadian winter climate for Emma to do her business. Definitely a lot of hard work and commitment, but remain patient with yourself, your dog and the process and you will get there.
Dogs learn by repetition, so remaining as consistent as you can with your training is key. Of course, adjustments to your training are inevitable and sometimes even necessary, but frequent changes to commands, hand gestures, potty breaks, walk times, and anything else that may introduce something “new” to the dog may prolong the learning process.
We understand that techniques must be tailored to the dog-in-training, as their age and previous history very well impact the way in which they learn. However, we believe that these 3 foundations are applicable to any training method. With the foundations in mind, let’s take a look at the 5 key commands.
We trained this command using the “look at me” hand gesture (peace sign pointed at your eyes) while calling out a firm “look” and heavily rewarded any eye contact that lasted around 10 seconds.
At first, your dog may break eye contact often, but if that happens, simply lure their gaze back to your eyes using treats (bringing the treats behind your head around eye-level often helps too), and reward eye contact that lasts around 5 seconds. Repeat the process and slowly build up the duration to get to the 10-second mark or even longer!
If your dog might be getting distracted, try using treats that are of higher value. We started off with a treat that Emma seemed to like but quickly realized that it wasn’t enough to hold her attention, so we switched to dried tripe curls from Oh My Dogness, a local Ontario natural treats producer, and this was a game-changer. The tripe curls were of much higher value to Emma so the training was much more efficient, and now these tripe curls are one of Emma’s favourite treats!
We use this “sit” command as a way to give Emma a moment to think in a calm state – let me explain.
For example, at every single door that Emma passes whether that be our front door, condo entrance, or the dog park gate, we always have her sit before she passes through. Her excitement can tempt her to just dart through an opening, but by having her take a moment to sit, we reset her excitement, revert her attention back to us, communicating to her that she cannot simply through open doors and must wait for our signal. We use the same technique before each of her meals, or when we might be passing by something exciting like another dog or a human friend that she loves to say hi to.
This command is very easy to train – simply hold a treat above your d head, slightly past their eye level to guide them into a sit position, while firmly calling out “sit”. Don’t forget to reward with treats and praise to clearly communicate that that was a desirable action. Rise and repeat!
We had initially trained this command as a way to establish a default position for Emma, so that one command brought her to a position between our legs if we needed her to quickly come to us and stay. We trained this command in situations like waiting at a traffic light, when she is in the elevator with another dog around, or when we (the humans) need to stop to chat with someone while we are on a walk with Emma.
This command is incredibly effective as it keeps Emma focused on us, allowing her to ignore any potential distractions, all the while ensuring that she feels safe and comfortable by being physically close to us. If she feels protective of us unnecessarily, this provides an opportunity to reassure her that we’re alright and for her to calm down. If something scares her, this position provides her comfort.
This command was trained in two steps, using the previous two commands, “look” and “sit”.
Begin by calling out “come middle” and taking one step to the side to open up a space for your dog to “come middle” to.
Using a treat, guide your dog behind you and then through your legs until they are right under you. Call out a firm “sit”, and heavily reward with treats and kisses if they sit in your desired “come middle” position.
Run through this a few times until you have 5 or 6 successful “come middles” in a row, rewarding heavily each time. Once they get the hang of this, add the “look” command after the “sit”. After a few 10-minute sessions, you will have a dog that knows to return to a default position via one simple command.
This command is one of the most important commands for your dog’s safety. It signals for them to ignore or stop approaching something that they shouldn’t engage with, whether that be chasing after squirrels and pigeons, or ignoring human-food that’s been dropped on the ground. This command can save your dog’s life.
When Emma first came to us at 8 weeks old, she would attempt to eat absolutely everything that was on the ground. It could be socks or phone charger cables inside the house, or if we were outside, it could be another dog’s poop, a chocolate candy wrapper, or fruit/seeds from trees– she would just want try to go for anything that was new. This behavior is simply a part of puppyhood, in that they are just figuring out their environment, and that’s why it’s on us, the owners, to guide them through this exploration and discovery process. We need to communicate to our dogs that through their exploration, certain things are not to be engaged with and what things they are allowed to chew/eat and this is where this “leave it” command comes in handy.
Start off by having your dog “sit” or “down”, and then “stay” in the position. Keep a collar and leash on them so that you can keep them in this position if they decide to move about. You can also use a Traffic Handle, which was developed specifically for situations like this where you might need to quickly grab a hold of your dog.
Place a toy or a treat in front of them and firmly call out “leave it”. They may try to go for the toy/treat during the first few attempts, but you will use your leash/handle to prevent them from reaching the toy/treat and soon they give up. Giving up might mean that they return to a “sit” or “down” or even back away from the toy/treat, but in any case, when they do give up, reward them heavily with high value treats from your treat bag (not the treats you asked them to “leave”) and lots and lots of praise. After a few successful “leave its”, increase the difficulty by either moving those treats/toys closer to them or asking them to leave something that’s of higher value to them.
This command may be taught differently by other trainers, but we use “stop” as another reset command just like the “sit”. Whenever Emma is told to “stop”, she immediately stops whatever she is doing at that moment, like releasing a toy that she is tugging or stopping her walk when we approach a curb, before we cross the street.
This command was another fairly simple one to train, but it does take a lot of time and patience to condition. Simply call out a firm “stop” while they are engaged in a certain activity, and when they stop what they are doing and focus on you, reward them heavily to communicate that their stopping was the desired action.
This “stop” command can certainly be replaced with other commands; it all depends on how you intend to use it. If you want to work on releasing a toy “drop it” may be sufficient. Similarly, if you’re training your dog to sit at traffic lights before crossing the street, simply using the “sit” command may be an option as well. However, for us, we wanted a reset command that abruptly stops whatever activity she was engaged in and divert her attention to us and “stop” was the solution.
There are many different methods and techniques to train your dog, especially when you consider their age and history, but regardless of the way in which you conduct any training session, we keep the following three things in mind for the most effective sessions:
- Speak clearly. Don’t be shy to call out commands or praise your dog, especially when you’re out in public.
- Reward heavily. Whether this means treats, verbal praise or cuddles, make sure that you are clearly communicating to your dog when something goes right.
- End positively. Try to avoid ending a session on a failed attempt or out of frustration. If the current command you’re working on isn’t working, pick a command that you know your dog will be successful with, reward heavily and end on a positive note to make sure that they’re willing to work on training again. We want to avoid them from associating training with frustration, failure and negativity.
If you keep these 3 things in mind, along with the 3 key “ingredients” to your training approach (guidance, patience and consistency), your hard work will definitely pay off!
Let us know what sort of training has worked for you! We’re always excited to hear and learn from fellow dog owners!
-Mick (Emma's Dad)